Imagine soaking in relaxing mineral water as jets of water gently massage your body, healing your health problems, rejuvenating your skin, and washing away the stresses of your life. If that sounds divine, it’s precisely what balneotherapy offers. No wonder therapeutic baths like this are popular in the onsens of Japan and in the health spas of Europe. If you are a balneotherapy novice, here’s a closer look at what to expect with this water therapy.
What Is Balneotherapy?
Balneotherapy is a form of therapeutic bathing where the restorative properties of water are used to heal and rejuvenate the body. This could be mineral-enriched waters that occur naturally in some places or tap water to which therapeutic agents have been added. Here are some of the most popular additions to therapeutic baths you’re likely to encounter at spas or health clinics1:
- Essential oils
Besides these, your hydrotherapy may make use of whirlpools, water jets to apply pressure on the body, hot water, or contrast baths where you move from one temperature to another – say, from a room temperature hydrotherapy bath to a cold one.
How Is Balneotherapy Carried Out?
Depending on the kind of balneotherapy, there may or may not be a therapist present throughout. Certain treatments may also involve massage or intervention by the therapist during the bath. Sessions may last around 20 to 25 minutes or less.
Typically though, in all these cases, you will first need to strip down to appropriate clothing as prescribed or explained in the facility’s rules. A swimsuit may be permitted for some treatments and you may need to be completely naked for others.
You will then enter the prepared bath to which essential oils, seaweed, mud, or other therapeutic agents have been added. Alternatively, you may have your balneotherapy in a hot spring or a natural mineral water source. If your treatment involves an underwater massage with therapist-held hoses or therapist-directed jets of water, they will be present to administer this therapy. In other cases, you may be left to soak in the water for a predetermined length of time. Specialized hydrotherapy tubs also have jets that can be turned on or off based on what you need.
When your therapy ends, you will need to get out of the water carefully. You will usually be offered some water to drink to rehydrate. Some people feel a little dizzy or drowsy after a session.
Benefits Of Balneotherapy
So who should try balneotherapy? Technically anyone can give it a go, barring those with certain health conditions, detailed later. A session can be deeply relaxing or reviving depending on what you undergo. Here are some of the benefits you could expect from such treatments:
Eases Fibromyalgia Pain
Thermal/mineral balneotherapy can help reduce pain in those with fibromyalgia syndrome. Research has found it can bring down tender point count in areas of the body that feels painful or tender.2
Balneotherapy with medicated or mineral-enriched waters could help as one aspect of anti-cellulite treatment.3
Brightens Skin And Cleanses Pores
Enzyme baths could be great for cleansing your pores, leaving you with fresh, glowing skin.4
Contrast baths can stimulate blood circulation.5
Reduces Lower Back Pain
If you’ve been grappling with lower back pain, balneotherapy can help. As one study found, test subjects who used mineral water in balneotherapy as opposed to plain water hydrotherapy saw significant improvement in their condition on multiple parameters compared to the plain water therapy group. It improved mobility and acted as an analgesic or pain relieving therapy.6
Offers Arthritic Symptom Relief
In those with rheumatoid arthritis, the therapy has been found to help improve functional capacity, morning stiffness, and handgrip strength among other things.7
The anti-inflammatory effects of balneotherapy can also help those with psoriasis, a condition that causes the skin to turn dry, itchy, and scaly.8
While some experts do opine that balneotherapy’s potential may have been overestimated and further study is needed, there’s no doubt that balneotherapy could be a good supplementary treatment, especially in illnesses such as fibromyalgia. 9 In addition, it may offer hope for pain or skin problems which have no alternative solutions. Unlike more harsh medication or mainstream treatment, this gentle therapy is risk-free, provided you get a sign-off from your doctor and try it under trained therapists.
Should You Avoid Balneotherapy?
Not all baths are appropriate for you if you have some pre-existing health problems or are pregnant. That’s because the minerals and essential oils could have side effects, trigger health issues, or cause your condition to deteriorate. For instance, if any of the following apply to you, you will need to check with your doctor and therapist to see if it is safe for you to try balneotherapy10:
- Open cuts/sores/wounds or recent injury
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Allergies to certain herbs/oils/salts
|↑1, ↑3, ↑4, ↑5, ↑10||Capellini, Steve. The complete spa book for massage therapists. Cengage Learning, 2012.|
|↑2, ↑9||Naumann, Johannes, and Catharina Sadaghiani. “Therapeutic benefit of balneotherapy and hydrotherapy in the management of fibromyalgia syndrome: a qualitative systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Arthritis research & therapy 16, no. 4 (2014): R141.|
|↑6||Balogh, Zoltán, József Ördögh, Attila Gász, László Német, and Tamás Bender. “Effectiveness of balneotherapy in chronic low back pain–a randomized single-blind controlled follow-up study.” Forschende Komplementärmedizin/Research in Complementary Medicine 12, no. 4 (2005): 196-201.|
|↑7||Santos, Isabel, Pedro Cantista, and Carlos Vasconcelos. “Balneotherapy in rheumatoid arthritis—a systematic review.” International journal of biometeorology 60, no. 8 (2016): 1287-1301.|
|↑8||Tsoureli‐Nikita, E., G. Menchini, I. Ghersetich, and J. Hercogova. “Alternative treatment of psoriasis with balneotherapy using Leopoldine spa water.” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology 16, no. 3 (2002): 260-262.|